I often tell friends that I have had the honor to be blessed by four Popes! Pope Paul VI in 1963, John Paul II four times, Benedict XVI twice and now we are looking forward to our Year of Faith Pilgrimage beginning on Monday, October 14th to Assisi, San Giovanni Rotondo and Rome, most especially to seeing and hearing Pope Francis in person!
The Ministry of Pilgrimages offers pilgrimages to Rome and other shrine locations pertaining to the history of our Church. It’s an exciting Ministry in many ways. Meeting people and making new friends is always a blessing, and traveling with that “new family” adds comfort and assurance.
John Paul II is a person I admired and loved. He was one with the people, wasn’t afraid of traveling to various parts of the world to proclaim the Good News, and was concerned for all.
During one of our pilgrimages to Rome, a married couple and dear friends wanted to stay a couple of extra days in Rome to visit additional sites and simply enjoy the eternal city! It was a blessing for Tom and I also, since we would be ready to relax with friends and enjoy Rome. One morning, our friends decided they wanted to go up to the Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. Tom and I had already experienced this and didn’t want to climb the 320 steps! (Even though you can take an elevator part of the way.) We decided to wait for our friends in St. Peter’s Basilica, so we could have time for “spiritual rest” – we were quite exhausted after leading the pilgrimage.
Upon entering St. Peter’s Basilica, we stopped at the Tomb of John Paul II, which was surrounded by crowds: some taking photos, praying youth, Religious Sisters with their rosaries, some just staring at the entombed remains of a man that so many admired. I, too, took advantage of the moment – I asked John Paul to intercede for us and our Evangelization Ministry. After all, he coined the phrase “New Evangelization,” a phrase that became a proclamation to all the faithful to be renewed in the faith and share it with others. My prayer was one from the depth of my heart – Tom and I were seeking guidance for the ministry.
Our next stop was the Chapel. Upon entering, it was as if you were entering Heaven on earth; it was so peaceful, so quiet. We were all there for the same thing – to adore God, to take time to be silent in His Presence.
We realized that we still had time before we met up with our friends, and as we walked to one side of St. Peter’s, we noticed an area set aside for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Vatican guard welcomed us and asked in which language we would prefer. English! As he walked around the individual wooden Confessionals, he returned stating English-speaking priests were not available. Then all of a sudden a priest at one of the confessionals waved the guard and said he would take us, explaining, however, that his English was very poor. Fine!
After my confession, the priest asked me a couple of questions– was I married? Children? In fact, I found his English to be very good, which was quite interesting since he said he didn’t speak English very well. After his blessing, he gave me a card with the picture of John Paul II and what appeared to be a “relic” on one corner. I noticed the cloth was white and asked the priest –is this a piece of John Paul’s cassock? He replied that it was, and so it was a second-class relic (something that belonged to the saint). Remarkable!
I was so excited and happy to have received this gift and KNEW it was John Paul II acknowledging my prayers. I KNEW this was an encounter with him. You can imagine how I felt. Tom and I walked out of St. Peter’s exuberant and filled with much joy and hope.
That card is framed and sits on my desk as a reminder of my encounter with John Paul II and his prayers for our evangelization ministry.
The Vatican has set the date for his canonization – April 27, 2014. He and Pope John XXIII will be canonized on that day. Go ahead – ask John Paul II to pray for you and your intentions. He is a member of the Communion of Saints.